In our opinion, cacti are easily one of the chicest succulents out there. If you're new to the plant game and aren't sure which plants to invest in, we have one great suggestion for you: Christmas cacti, also known as Schlumbergera. They are easily one of the most identifiable houseplants, even if you didn't know their name until now. This native Brazilian plant features draping green branches that produce beautiful flowers that bloom for weeks at a time. They're dubbed Christmas cacti because their bloom color is typically red (although some varieties bloom in other colors as well), while the plant's base is a rich green.
If you're worried you may not be able to keep this beautiful plant alive, rest assured because they're actually pretty easy to care for. Keep reading to learn all of the ins and outs of this festive and prickly succulent, including tips from plant expert Andrew Gaumond.
Meet the Expert
Andrew Gaumond is a horticulturalist, botanist, and Editorial Director for floral and plant resource Petal Republic.
Best Growing Conditions for Christmas Cactus
Christmas cacti need bright, indirect light during the day to produce their beautiful blooms and to stay healthy. "Christmas cacti are native to shaded woodlands (unlike their desert-loving cousins), so aim for a spot in your [home] with some partial shade throughout the day," Gaumond says. Also, try placing your plant in a spot that gets eastern exposure. Without proper light, these plants will become leggy and weak. On the other hand, too much light will burn your plant. It's all about finding that perfect balance. "An easterly or northerly facing window sill or side table would be perfect," Gaumond adds. "For other aspects in the home, look to protect the plant from the intensity of prolonged exposure to the sun's rays by slightly drawing blinds if available."
Be sure to rotate the plant once a week to ensure balanced growth on all sides.
When the plant isn’t blooming, only water it when the soil is dry to the touch, which should be roughly once every seven days, depending on the light exposure and moisture level in your home. When the plant is flowering, make sure the soil is evenly damp (but not soaking wet) at all times. Your plant will also benefit from a good misting every few days. "Christmas cactus will typically enter a period of dormancy once the winter months arrive through to the start of spring when the plant will kick-start into life again. During these months, watering can be reduced to every 14 to 21 days, typically (again, only watering once the soil base has had an opportunity to dry a little before re-watering)," Gaumond says.
Plant your Christmas cactus in well-draining soil and a pot that has a drainage hole in the bottom to prevent root rot and pests from making an appearance. Try using a sandy cactus mix or make your own by combining equal parts common potting soil and sand.
Christmas cacti will not thrive if it's too hot or too cold, so try to aim for a temperature between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 55 to 65 degrees at night. Christmas cacti require these lower nighttime temperatures in order to bloom. "Like many houseplants, Christmas cactus tend to enjoy moderate to high humidity levels (a particular consideration during long, dry winter months). These conditions can easily be replicated with a decent in-room humidifier located near the plant or by placing the potted plant on a humidity tray, which will create a mini-microclimate," Gaumond says.
To Repot or Not to Repot
Christmas cacti are some of the easiest houseplants to care for. For starters, repotting the plant is every two or three years is a good idea. The best time to repot is after the plant is finished blooming. Try to repot in a container that is 1–1.5 inches larger than the current one it's living in. Repotting helps promote growth and a healthy root system. Just be sure to choose a container with drainage holes, because if the roots sit in water for an extended period of time, they will rot and kill your plant.
"A good organic, all-purpose cacti or houseplant fertilizer will give your Christmas cactus a nice nutritional boost during the spring and summer months and help to support growth of the vibrant blooms," Gaumond recommends. Feed your cactus every three to four weeks, though you should "avoid feeding during the winter months when the plant is resting."
Debugging Your Christmas Cactus
If you notice bugs or a fungus on your plant, the first thing you should do is isolate it and check your other houseplants. Next, take a closer look at what has infested your Christmas cactus. Unfortunately, Christmas cacti are susceptible to spider mites and fungus gnats. Luckily, fungus gnats are super easy to get rid of and deal with.
The first course of action is to let the soil dry out completely to kill off the eggs. If that doesn't work, try using insecticide (which is a type of bug-killing soap). If that still doesn't work, repot your plant in totally new soil. Be sure to wash out the pot with soap if you're going to reuse it.
Does your plant have some white webbing on the leaves' undersides and close to the soil? Odds are that Charlotte hasn't built a web in your plant—you've got spider mites. Wipe down the leaves with insecticide or give it a quick water bath to clean off the leaves. Let the plant dry out and try again. Spider mites put up quite the battle, so prepare yourself to keep watch until they've been eradicated.